The Vicente Calderón will host Real Madrid for the final time in league action on Saturday, in what will be a crucial match for Atlético given their inconsistent recent form in La Liga.
Los Blancos make the trip across town with a six point over Diego Simeone’s team, but the red and whites will be desperate for a win to close the gap in the first meeting between the two sides since Milan.
If you’re a Madrid fan, you probably couldn’t be happier to see the back of the Calderón. Atlético Madrid’s home since 1966 has recently given headaches for Real Madrid and a number of their managers.
Rafa Benitez and Carlo Ancelotti both couldn’t get the better of the rojiblancos in league play while they were at the helm and neither has Zinedine Zidane.
In fact, the former World Cup champion’s first defeat as manager of Real came against Atleti at the Bernabéu in February of this year. The last manager to claim a league win over Atleti was José Mourinho in his final campaign in charge.
It’s been three years. Three years that has also seen Atleti’s bitter rivals get the better of them in the tournament where legacies are forever immortalized among the continent as whole – the UEFA Champions League.
Yes, both 2014 in Lisbon and this past summer in Milan have showcased Atleti’s brilliance and eventual demise at the hands of the self-proclaimed most decorated club in football.
But the UCL title isn’t on the line on Saturday, the journey to be the called the kings of the 16/17 La Liga season continues and it will be emotional, intense, and on Atleti’s turf and terms.
Cholo has been a mastermind at getting the better of los Blancos within the confines of the Kingdom of Spain, having won four of the last six domestic meetings including a memorable 4-0 win back in 2014/15.
Coming into the match, Real Madrid has been that guy who’s gotten the top job merely off who he knows rather than putting forth the best effort to stand out among the candidates and put the most effort into their resume.
However, they sit atop of the La Liga table with 27 points, with Atleti down in fourth with 21. Just how have Real gotten there? To put it simply, it’s been through inconsistency and crucial individual brilliance.
Despite their injury problems though, the Merengues keep finding ways to win matches and score in vital moments, and are currently on a 28 game unbeaten streak that dates back to April, when they lost to Wolfsburg.
Casemiro, Pepe, Toni Kroos and Álvaro Morata are all out – the latter two picking up knocks during the international break – but Zidane does have Sergio Ramos and Karim Benzema back at his disposal following spells on the sidelines.
Luka Modric is also expected to start having returned in their last match against Leganés, as are Keylor Navas and Gareth Bale despite suffering from fitness issues earlier in the week.
The big doubt for Atleti surrounded Antoine Griezmann, but thankfully the Frenchman has been passed fit and is in Simeone’s 20-man full squad. Gaitán also returns after a short period out.
Other than long term absentee Augusto, the red and whites are at full strength with Alessio Cerci and André Moreira the only other first team players not involved.
In his press conference, Cholo called upon the fans to make it a night to remember on what will be a special occasion on the banks of the Manzanares river.
“I hope that the stadium will be as vibrant as always because we need the 12th man,” he said. “We must know how to control our own emotions and be together to be able to perform.”
“Whether we’re three, six or nine points behind Real Madrid doesn’t matter at the moment. What’s important is how we approach the game and the occasion, the last ever league match here against our eternal rival.”
The Argentine also took the chance to pay his respects to former Atleti player and teammate Daniel Prodan, who sadly passed away earlier in the week at the age of just 44.
“It’s something that hurts. Daniel was always a great person to have as a teammate, he knews the important values of the club. My condolences to his family.”
After the match, Atleti return to Champions League action for another home clash against PSV Eindhoven on Wednesday night.
Atlético match selection
Goalkeepers: Oblak, Moyá
Defenders: Godín, Filipe, Savic, Vrsaljko, Lucas, Juanfran, Giménez
Midfielders: Tiago, Koke, Saúl, Carrasco, Gabi, Thomas, Gaitán
Forwards: Griezmann, Torres, Correa, Gameiro